I decided to do the morning reads in two parts today. Part I is another tale of America’s rape culture. Part II will provide other news links. That way if you can’t face reading Part I, you can return for Part II in a little bit. Here goes….
I was very glad to see that Notre Dame was crushed, 42-14, in the BCS championship game last night. Thank goodness keeping two accused rapists on their team didn’t help Notre Dame in the end. Dave Zirin at the Nation compares the reactions of sports writers to the scandals at Penn State vs. Notre Dame:
Two storied college football programs. Two rape scandals. Only one national outcry. How do we begin to explain the exponentially different levels of attention paid to crimes of violence and power at Penn State and Notre Dame?
At Penn State, revered assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was raping young boys while being shielded by a conspiracy of silence of those in power at the football powerhouse. At Notre Dame, it’s not young boys being raped by an assistant coach. It’s women being threatened, assaulted, and raped by players on the school’s unbeaten football team. Yet sports media that are overwhelmingly male and ineffably giddy about Fighting Irish football’s return to prominence have enacted their own conspiracy of silence….
The main reason this is taking place is because their accusers are not pressing charges. One cannot, because she is dead. Nineteen-year-old Lizzy Seeberg, a student at neighboring St. Mary’s College, took her own life after her claims of being assaulted in a dorm room were met with threats and indifference. The other accuser, despite description of a brutal rape, won’t file charges—“absolutely 100%”—because of what Seeberg experienced.
I’ll provide a few more links about Lizzy’s story in a minute, but Zirin says straight out what I have been thinking for a long time: Violence against women has become “normalized” in American culture.
This is not just a Notre Dame issue. At too many universities, too many football players are schooled to see women as the spoils of being a campus god. But it’s also an issue beyond the commodification of women on a big football campus. It’s the fruit of a culture where politicians can write laws that aim to define the difference between “rape” and “forcible rape” and candidates for the Senate can speak about pregnancy from rape being either a “gift from God” or biologically impossible in the case of “legitimate rape.” It’s a culture where comedians like Daniel Tosh or Tucker Max can joke about violently raping, as Max puts it, a “gender hardwired for whoredom.” The themes of power, rape and lack of accountability are just as clear in the case of the Steubenville, Ohio, football players not only boasting that they “so raped” an unconscious girl but feeling confident enough to videotape their boasts.
After I read this article, I looked for more background on the Notre Dame situation. I ended up so depressed and nauseated that I couldn’t write this post last night. Sorry–I’ve been doing that a lot lately, but sometimes after I read the latest bad news, I need to sleep on it before I can write about it.
Melinda Henneberger, a Notre Dame alumnus and Washington Post columnist, has been writing about the cover-up at Notre Dame for a couple of years now, and she probably deserves credit for keeping the story alive, though low on the radar. Here’s a piece she wrote in December: Why I won’t be cheering for old Notre Dame.
Two years ago, Lizzy Seeberg, a 19-year-old freshman at Saint Mary’s College, across the street from Notre Dame, committed suicide after accusing an ND football player of sexually assaulting her. The friend Lizzy told immediately afterward said she was crying so hard she was having trouble breathing.
Yet after Lizzy went to the police, a friend of the player’s sent her a series of texts that frightened her as much as anything that had happened in the player’s dorm room. “Don’t do anything you would regret,” one of them said. “Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea.”
At the time of her death, 10 days after reporting the attack to campus police, who have jurisdiction for even the most serious crimes on school property, investigators still had not interviewed the accused. It took them five more days after she died to get around to that, though they investigated Lizzy herself quite thoroughly, even debriefing a former roommate at another school with whom she’d clashed.
Six months later — after the story had become national news — Notre Dame did convene a closed-door disciplinary hearing. The player testified that until he actually met with police, he hadn’t even known why they wanted to speak to him — though his buddy who’d warned Lizzy not to mess with Notre Dame football had spoken to investigators 13 days earlier. He was found “not responsible,” and never sat out a game.
Even after Lizzy killed herself, Notre Dame officials continued to investigate her and try to tarnish her character. They painted her as possibly mentally ill and claimed she had been the aggressor in the assault. Notre Dame’s president, Holy Cross Fr. John Jenkins, repeatedly refused to meet with Lizzy’s family and did not even extend condolences to them after her death. It is obvious that there is a culture at Notre Dame (and at other colleges and universities) that protects athletes and covers up their violent acts against female students. Naturally, the next girl–who was violently raped–by a member of the football team decided it wasn’t worthwhile to complain about it.
As everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock knows by now, there is a high profile trial going on in Orlando, Florida–complete with circus-like atmosphere and spectators fighting for tickets to see the trial live. I’m referring, of course, to the trial of Casey Anthony, accused of first degree murder in the death of her daughter Caylee.
The Anthony trial is getting wall-to-wall coverage on TV stations in Florida, as well as on a couple of cable outlets, but there is another case beginning jury selection today in the same Orange County Courthouse that may have wider implications for families around the country and for high school and college athletic programs.
In March, 2008, Ereck Plancher, a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Central Florida (UCF), collapsed and died after a preseason football practice. An autopsy showed that Plancher died from complications associated with sickle cell trait.
In March 2009, Plancher’s parents filed suit for wrongful death against UCF’s board of trustees and Athletics Association claiming that their son’s coaches and trainers knew that Plancher had the sickle cell trait but didn’t inform him or his family. In addition, they charge that UCF athletic staff failed respond when Plancher began to exhibit symptoms during the his last practice and therefore they contributed to his death.
Basically, individuals with this trait are carriers of one sickle cell gene–they are heterozygous. In order for sickle cell disease to fully manifest, an individual must have two copies of the abnormal gene. However, it is possible for sickle cell symptoms to appear under highly stressful conditions such as high altitudes, extreme physical exertion, or dehydration. In such instances, there can be dangerous complications. The sickle cell gene is far more common in people with African heritage than people from other ethnic backgrounds. The NCAA and some colleges and universities have resisted testing players for the trait for fear of being accused of racial discrimination.
The most egregious allegation is that the coach and trainers withheld water from players during the workout, and this was backed up in pre-trial testimony by three former UCF players, Nate Tice, Cody Minnich, and Anthony Davis. Tice and Minnich testified in a hearing on Friday.
When Tice was asked during his deposition whether water was available during Plancher’s last workout, he responded, “No.”
Tice, a reserve quarterback who transferred to Wisconsin, said players asked for water from athletic trainers “at your own risk” because O’Leary would curse at athletes who interrupted workouts.
Tice was then asked whether there were athletic trainers present during Plancher’s last workout. Tice said, “They were in a corner. They were not, like, with us.”
Minnich, a reserve offensive lineman who was dismissed from the team after being arrested for driving under the influence in December 2008, said during his deposition there was no water available in the practice facility while the players were running through an obstacle course and sprints.
“They were ordered to take the water outside of the building, and they weren’t there during that portion of the workout,” Minnich said of the athletic trainers.
When he was asked who ordered the athletic trainers to leave, Minnich said O’Leary shouted the instructions.
The question of adequate hydration is central to the case. The judge decided on Friday that Plancher’s parents can sue for punitive damages, but they will only be awarded if the jury decides water was unavailable during the practice.
Tice and Minnich bolstered the previous testimony of Anthony Davis.
UCF officials, including O’Leary and athletic director Keith Tribble, said in the immediate aftermath of Plancher’s death that the workout in which he collapsed was not a taxing one. However, former wide receiver Anthony Davis said in his sworn statement that trainers didn’t help Plancher as he struggled to finish an obstacle course. He also told attorneys that he witnessed O’Leary curse Plancher at times when he couldn’t keep up with other teammates.
Davis also told attorneys that he witnessed O’Leary curse Plancher at times when he couldn’t keep up with other teammates.
Ereck Plancher is not the first athlete to die from complications of sickle cell trait.
CNN reports that nine collegiate football players’ deaths have been related to sickle-cell trait since 2000, making exertional sickling the leading cause of death in NCAA football players this decade.” But “the medical field is divided over whether there is enough evidence to warrant the mass screenings,” because the way the trait is related to the deaths is “unclear,” CNN reports.
According to the Washington Post, there have been four such deaths in Florida alone.
Four in-state college football players have died in the past decade while participating in offseason workouts: Plancher; South Florida’s Keeley Dorsey; Florida’s Eraste Autin; and Florida State’s Devaughn Darling.
“I believe it had some effect on him, definitely,” said Devard Darling. “My teammates, who were there at the time, said he was saying he couldn’t see, he was blacking out. … Clearly, there were signs for him to stop. There was definitely room for coaches and athletic trainers to step in and say that’s enough.”
Devard said he’s had no problems with the condition and has always done “all team activities.”
But, he added, “I know my body. It’s important for young athletes as they grow to know their limitations. The No. 1 thing is staying hydrated. … But there is a point at which you know something is not right. You need a little rest.”
He added, “I’m sure it’s not just me (participating in pro sports with sickle cell trait). They say one out of every 10-12 people of African descent carries the sickle cell trait. You know the high amount of African-Americans in pro sports.”
The Darling family received a $200,000 settlement from Florida State (the amount was $2 million, but Florida limits the amount that can be paid in a wrongful death suit!).
Devard has set up a foundation in his native Bahamas to support the brothers’ “dream of bringing football home to the Bahamas and creating opportunities for young kids.” The As One Foundation gets its name from the twins’ hearts beating “as one” in the womb.
A similar wrongful death lawsuit was recently filed in Mississippi.
The family of a deceased Ole Miss football player filed a wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday against the NCAA, the University of Mississippi, coach Houston Nutt as well as several staffers and medical personnel.
Bennie “Buster” Abram died in February 2010 following an early offseason workout due to complications from sickle cell trait. His parents alleged in a 32-page document filed in Mississippi circuit court that the defendants were so “reckless” that their actions rise to “the level of crimes such as” negligent criminal homicide and involuntary manslaughter.
Bennie Abram III, a walk-on, collapsed shortly after an early-morning workout on Feb. 19, 2010. Six hours later he was pronounced dead. Three months later, an autopsy determined sickle cell trait had contributed to his death. At the time, Abram was the 21st NCAA football player to die from a non-traumatic event since 2000. Eleven of those deaths had come in Division I-A. Sickle cell trait remains the leading killer of Division I football players since that year.
The NCAA did not mandate testing for the condition until last year. That move resulted from a legal settlement between the family of deceased Rice player Dale Lloyd II and the NCAA in 2009. Eugene Egdorf, the lead attorney in Abram’s lawsuit, represented the Lloyd family. Dale Lloyd died in 2006 as a result of sickle cell trait following a workout.
“[Bennie’s] death is a tragedy that should have been prevented,” Egdorf said in a release announcing Tuesday’s suit. “Every sickle cell expert in the world will tell you that the only way this trait can cause a student-athlete’s death is when they are put through overly strenuous workouts like the one Bennie went through before he died.”
Again, in this case, university officials knew the young man had the sickle cell trait and did not inform him or his family or take special precautions.
The NCAA now mandates testing for sickle cell trait for all Division I athletes, but there is an opt-out for students who sign a waiver.
In my opinion, screening for the trait should be instituted at every level of student athletics. Certainly there should also be protections to keep people who test positive from being discriminated against. High school athletes can also be stressed enough for the symptoms to manifest, as demonstrated in the case of 14-year-old Lubbock, Texas basketball player Kourtni Livingston, who died while running laps.
“This is not a case about punitive damages or about insurance, it’s about saving lives,” Plancher attorney Steven Yerrid said recently. “It’s not about compensating the Plancher family. It’s about stopping football programs from disregarding safety of student athletes that participate in them. And that’s important and that’s the message. Punitive damages are not designed to compensate plaintiffs. … They’re designed to punish wrongdoers and to send a message that type of conduct won’t be tolerated.